It was back in late February when Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson started calling Kemba Walker the "motor," as in "The truck don’t run without its motor."
Sunday the motor ran out of gas. Or leaked quarts of oil. Or seized up entirely.
I have seen Walker do amazing things in the biggest of games, all the way back to his early Connecticut days. The guy has an exceptional resume for poise under pressure. You don’t lead the NBA in "late-and-close game" scoring by accident.
Which made it all the more shocking and sad that Walker was dreadful in the biggest game since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004.
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Walker was thoroughly dominated by Heat point guard Goran Dragic, who scored 25 points to Walker’s nine as Miami won 106-73 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference playoff series. The Hornets’ 48-victory regular season was so much about Walker’s improved shooting, yet he made just three of his 16 attempts from the field Sunday.
For the Hornets to have any chance on the road in a Game 7 against a Heat team with dramatically more playoff experience, Walker had to be exceptional. He knew that was the deal long before the Hornets qualified for the playoffs and he held himself accountable.
"For me, it was just really bad decision-making," said Walker, who also committed three turnovers. "Getting in the air and not really have anything (planned)."
Of the five Hornets starters, Walker was the only one who outplayed his counterpart for most of the first six games. At times, Dragic looked befuddled trying to stay between Walker and the rim.
But Sunday it was Dragic scoring 17 points first half of a game the Hornets were never really in during the second half.
This is so uncharacteristic of Walker’s season. He was second in media balloting for NBA Most Improved Player. He was so much this team’s closer that the team had a saying – "It’s time to win the game" – that various Hornets would shout at Walker to remind him they depend on him.
Instead, Walker played just half of the fourth quarter’s 12 minutes because by then the Heat led by 30 or more.
Was he physically exhausted from what the Hornets invested in Games 5 and 6?
"Not as much as I wish I had," Walker replied when asked about his energy. "But (Miami’s) guys played really, really well. Their defense was so on point tonight.
"Everybody is tired at this point – on both teams. That’s never an excuse, me being tired. I wish I had played better, but unfortunately I didn’t."
No, they obliterated the Hornets, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing positive to draw from this experience. Before this season, the Bobcats/new Hornets had never won a playoff game. They went from having lost 10 consecutive playoff games to leading this series 3-2 with a chance to close out the Heat in Charlotte.
Walker said Sunday’s result doesn’t trivialize all the good work that preceded it.
"I thought we had a great season. We were really resilient. We had a lot of injuries but we stuck together," he said. "When guys’ names were called to step up, they did. I’m just really happy with my team’s effort.
"We’ll be back, better and stronger."
And what about that first-time Game 7 experience?
"It sucks. It’s tough to lose a Game 7 the way we did," Walker concluded. "But at the same time you’ve got to learn from it. I’m just going to learn from my mistakes and come back better."